Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 15
Cathy had heard from others–Sherem and Maltres, since she couldn’t bring herself to talk to Alzbieta as friends–about the Heronplow’s activation of the Treewall on the solstice. What she saw sounded like the tale she’d received. The plow sank into the earth and sped back and forth across the flat top of the mound. The land here was plowed, and the Heronplow followed the existing furrows. It broke the ice and snow, which melted into living water instantly in its wake. The water sank into the furrows, and scant feet behind the Heronplow as it progressed, green shoots sprang from the earth.
Tarami tore at his beard and wept.
Luman Walters fell to his knees.
Corn and beans and squash raced skyward in intertwined vegetable towers. Wheat exploded to maturity, heavy heads pulling the stalks downward before they had even reached full height. Peaches, apples, and grapes ripened in the space of a few breaths as Cathy watched.
She heard a grunting sound, and looked to Sarah. The young woman’s eyes were closed and she was sweating despite the cold. Cathy rushed to throw her arms around the girl and held her.
“It’s enough,” Cathy whispered.
“Not . . . yet . . . ” Sarah ground through clenched teeth.
The Heronplow touched the end of the final furrow on top of the Great Mound and sank into the earth out of sight.
All eleven of Sarah’s witnesses gasped.
Luman Walters spun on his heel and stared down at the side of the mound.
And then the plow broke from the earth on the east-facing slope of the temple and raced downward. It paralleled the steps in its course, and as it traveled, trees grew in its wake. They were impossible trees, trees that couldn’t grow in the cold Ohio, much less in its winter–persimmons, oranges, dates, bananas, olives . . . and figs.
It was nonsense as a garden or a forest, a luxuriant glossolalia of vegetation.
As an act of fertile power, it was shocking.
A cry of astonishment and joy rocked the mound from below.
“This doesn’t come from your demon, child!” Tarami cried. “This comes from heaven. This is an act of God! This is how the Lord answers my thousand miles, my bloodied knees, my hundred thousand prayers, the million prayers of his children! Abundance means peace! May He bless Lord Thomas and his house as gloriously as He now blesses us!”
“No,” Sarah croaked.
Tarami ran down the steps of the mound.
Luman Walters sat, breathing rapidly and burying his face in his hands.
“Stop him!” Sarah fell forward onto one forearm, clutching the Orb of Etyles to her breast. “Stop the priest!”
The others looked at each other in surprise, but Maltres Korinn sprang forward. “Stop, Father!” he bellowed.
Cathy quickly lost the ability to make out the words of the vizier or the priest, under the tumult of yelling that rose from the city. She could see the movement of the Heronplow around Cahokia by the growth of vegetation that rose from the ground in its wake, filling the avenues and plazas, turning every mound into an island of snow surrounded by a sea of fruit-bearing plant life.
Shouts of joy mingled with weeping of relief.
She watched Father Tarami move through the crowd that parted for him, crossing to the Basilica Mound. There he stood on the mound’s lowest steps and shouted, waving his arms and leaping as if in dance. He fell to his knees and had his arms stretched heavenward as if he was personally calling down rain when Maltres Korinn and half a dozen of Cahokia’s gray-caped wardens seized him.
The crowd tried to free the priest.
“No,” Sarah groaned, trying to drag herself forward and failing.
The wardens beat the mob back with their batons, but not before two of their number were knocked to the ground. The crowd picked up sticks and stones and was gathering to charge again when the priest Tarami threw up his arms to stop them.
Cathy couldn’t hear his words, but whatever he said, the crowd stepped back. They dropped their weapons and merely stared at the vizier as he dragged the old man away under guard.
Cathy took a deep breath.
“This is the most astonishing thing I have ever seen,” Luman Walters said.
“He’ll need help.” The Polite Sherem, jolted out of paralysis, descended the mound.
The entire city had become a garden.
“People won’t need instructions to feed themselves,” Walters said. “But they should be organized to collect all the food they can and store it.”
“Why?” Alzbieta said. “Wisdom has provided this. And Her Beloved. Don’t you trust them to provide again?”
Sarah collapsed to the ground.
Maltres Korinn locked Zadok Tarami into the same cell deep in the Hall of Onandagos that had held Sarah and Calvin Calhoun a few days earlier. Tarami was no magician, as far as Maltres knew, but the silver-bound construction of the cell would help prevent any magical rescue attempt from the outside.
He stationed a dozen wardens to watch the prison cells. When Sherem produced two Polites in red as volunteers to join the guard–a sleepy-eyed woman with short graying hair and a thin man with surprisingly heavy jowls–he promptly accepted, asking them to take turns, so as to always leave a gramarist on duty.
Later, under cover of darkness and perhaps with the assistance of the Polites, Maltres planned to relocate the priest to a more secret cell.
The Imperial hedge wizard Luman Walters also volunteered. Maltres sent him away.
What to make of the exchange between Walters and the Beloved? That Walters was a thief, but earnest, and with angels in his pockets?
It was Zadok Tarami who prevented any real violence in his arrest. After telling the crowd that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, as revealed by the prophet in his true book, The Law of the Way, had sent this heavenly bounty to sustain the people of Cahokia and turn their hearts toward peace, he had submitted to arrest. He had begged the Cahokians to set down their sticks and stones and submit as well, telling them that Korinn and Sarah Elytharias were only misinformed, and that the miracle of food had been sent for their benefit as well, to convince them of the error of their ways.
Maltres Korinn knew better. Whatever the priest could say, he had seen the Mother of All Living in her Unfallen Eden. He knew She lived, and had chosen Sarah Elytharias Penn as Her Beloved.
He would bear witness to those truths, and if need be, he would do it with the sword.
In due time, the Beloved would become Queen. And then, he hoped, the Duke of Na’avu would be allowed to return home.
Still, he was grateful that, for the moment at least, the people of Cahokia weren’t tearing each other to pieces in riots.
For the collection and storage of food, Maltres knew he’d need to deploy the wardens. Having been underfed for weeks, he feared his people might respond poorly to the sudden bounty. Deploying the wardens to oversee food collection would mean taking them off the Treewall, so Maltres sought out Captain Sir William Johnston Lee.
He found him on the wall, attended by the coyote-headed beastman named Chikaak. It was only on emerging from the wooden stairs encased within the living wood of the Treewall onto the ramparts that Maltres realized that the wall, too, had borne fruit. Not one kind only, but several: a nut like a chestnut, encased in a prickly shell, something that looked like a bright orange quince, clusters of green berries.
The wardens atop the wall had lain spears and rifles down and were stuffing fruit into their mouths as fast as they could. Maltres looked along the rampart and saw the same scene repeated each time.